Gardening Is Good For The Soul
‘TO PLANT A GARDEN IS TO BELIEVE IN TOMORROW’ AUDREY HEPBURN
How many of us look at green spaces, a beautiful garden or glade of bluebells in the woods and feel soothed by the images in front of us? I know I do. My opinion may be biased, but I truly believe that as we live in an ever-increasing concrete jungle where buildings reach for the sky and natural light is restricted, our green space becomes ever more precious. Our environment does affect the way we feel. George MacKerron (*) an economist at the University of Sussex did a study among young, employed, educated people. His study concluded that the participants where substantially and significantly happier outdoors in all green or natural habitats than they were in urban environments.
Credit: Rosebank Landscaping
Matt Keightly’s Feel Good Garden which is now installed at the Highgate Mental Health Centre. This garden is a real touchy, feely garden. You cannot resist touching the plants.
Matt advises to use calming colours, aromatic and textural plants. Also encourage wildlife to come into the gardens and create interesting routes around the garden. Matt has cleverly used different materials along the path which makes you stop focusing on the mind and think about your journey. Interesting focal points make you linger and look.
Mental health is equally as important as physical health. Good mental health in children will help them to grow into adults who will be able to cope with what life throws at them. The pressures of life these days means that many children don’t get the opportunity to go to parks, climb trees, play in the garden and come in contact with soil and nature. I remember as a child my friends and I were able to do all this. We were not shrouded in protection by our parents. If we got injured, we learnt from the experience. Sadly, these activities have been replaced by TV, computers, tablets and mobile phones.
These are doing more harm to their mental state of mind then a fall climbing a tree. Surveys are showing that more young people are suffering from depression, anxiety and mental health problems than over 30 years ago. The mental health of the state is not a pleasant picture. Prescriptions for anti-depressants are at record levels in England, costing the NHS and the taxpayer a fortune. Fifty million anti-depressants prescriptions dispensed in 2012(*a). Most importantly children need to engage with nature to ensure they grow into young adults both physically and mentally, being able to take on life’s challenges. We are born of nature and there is a connection between humans and nature. If we disconnect from nature will this inevitably not cause our own destruction?
Credit: rhs.org.uk Designer Seanaid Royall
This garden was created by Seanaid Royall. It is so important to help children connect to nature. Not only is it good for their wellbeing but it also helps them to understand respect other forms of life. Children should be encouraged to grow their own food so that they understand how it is grown and where it comes from.
It is not all doom and gloom though. The Royal Horticultural Society are working very hard with the NHS both on a political stage and through their garden events to show the benefits of gardens and gardening to our health and wellbeing. Health professionals are now acknowledging the mental and physical benefits of gardening. Green spaces have the power to heal. My friend Matt Keightly created the ‘Feel Good Garden’ at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2019. 39 out of 54 NHS Mental Health Trusts from across the country applied to rehome this incredible garden. Its new home is now the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust at the Highgate Mental Health Centre.
The national charity Horatio’s Garden are creating beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres to support patients, their families and friends. Each garden is assigned a head gardener by the charity to nurture the gardens with the help of volunteers. Go to their website to read more about the very important and essential work the charity does through garden therapy, plant cultivation, the garden as a therapeutic space, working together in the garden.
I visited Hampton Court Flower show in 2019 and one garden that really struck me was the ‘Believe in Tomorrow’ garden by Seanaid Royall. This garden had education at its heart and aimed to reconnect children with nature. What surprised me the most was when Seanaid asked the school children what they would like the most in their school or their garden, they all wanted a pond.
Gardening is good for our health. Patients suffering from depression are often told to exercise. Gardening is physical (exercise) which releases endorphins that help to lift our spirits. There is no stress or pressure as would experience in an office environment. You can work at your own pace. Gardening provides opportunity to learn new skills and to gain confidence. What’s more gardeners are good bunch of people always willing to share their knowledge and give support.
The healing power of community gardening. It helps people to come together and support each other thereby taking away the feeling of loneliness. It also gives people confidence and the wonderful thing is it is open to all.
Community gardening is a great way to meet and interact with other people, helping to build new social networks. This can be done through gardening clubs, allotments or simply volunteering. This can help overcome feelings of loneliness, isolation and help improve social skills. It can help lead to other opportunities. Gardening does not suffer age, class, colour or social discrimination like other industries do.
When we feel ill, we ‘hope’ we get better. Planting a seed also requires hope. The hope that it will grow. This then brings out the nurturing side in us. We have to nurture the seedling as it grows, so we now have a responsibility to look after the seedling. As the seedling grows into a plant it may flower or bear fruit. Is there not a sense of achievement and satisfaction that we have made that happen?
These small steps help us gain confidence and self-esteem. They motivate us to look forward to a new day. Charities like Thrive and Mind do wonderful work by using gardening as a form of therapy for people going through depression.
Research at Bristol University and University College London have been carrying out research on how friendly bacteria in soil helps the brain to produce serotonin, thus acting like an anti-depressant. Low levels of serotonin as associated with aggression, anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and bi-polar. Anti-depressants help to increase our serotonin levels, but they have side effects. Mycobacterium vaccae (the friendly bacteria) is said to work in exactly the same way.
Credit: Salisbury Journal
Horatio’s Gardens are making a huge difference to both the patients of spinal injury and their loved ones. Gardens are not just pretty areas to look at, the are a necessity to our wellbeing. The Covid-19 pandemic has made many of realise how important our own personal private space is. We only seem to appreciate it’s value when it is taken away from us.
Imagine how much money the NHS and the taxpayer could save if GPs could write a prescription for gardening rather than drugs. This is now beginning to happen. GP’s are keen to try alternative methods to help patients and Green Therapy is one of methods they are adopting. Sydenham Garden Charity Trust (*b) is a great example. It has under an acre with a wellbeing centre with gardens, a nature reserve and activity rooms. Experienced staff run therapeutic gardening sessions weekly and they are supported by volunteers. Between 2017 and 2018 Sydenham Garden received 313 patient referrals from health professionals.
When my mother had an operation a few years ago, she was treated in a private hospital and I noticed that all the rooms faced out to gardens or woodland. I have since learnt that that there is a good reason for this. Being able to view a garden (nature) helps patient recovery.
In Japan they now practice something called Shinrin-yoju (forest bathing). It is to connect humans back to nature. Those who work in the city can go and spend time in the forest. There are forest sites dedicated to this practice. Studies have shown that simply wondering through a forest reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This helps to lower blood pressure thereby helping to improve concentration
(*) The Nature Fix by Florence Williams
(*a) HSCIC (2013) Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community Statistics for England (2020-2012), London: Health and Social Care Information Service.